From the Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1912
THE OLD COMMISSARIAT STORES.
(By Frank Walker)
"The recent alterations and the removal of the large sheds on the western side of Circular Quay have for the first time for many years enabled passing travellers to obtain an uninterrupted view of the large stone building commonly known as the Commissariat Stores, which, together with a long range of buildings facing George-street, were erected by Governor Macquarie over 100 years ago.
The building facing the Quay is still in a wonderful state of preservation, and a closer examination of the stones on the northern face of the right hand wing will reveal a series of initials, here and there, roughly painted on the stones. These are the work of the convicts who erected the building, and no doubt are a record of their names. The same feature may be observed in some old wool stores, near what was originally known as the Moorecliff Hospital, and which were also erected by convict labour many years ago. The first mention of the old building under notice is found in vol. VII. of the Historical Records, where, on page 41, Lieutenant Colonel Foveaux, in writing a despatch to Viscount Castlereagh, under date February 20, 1809, speaks of the building in the following terms: -
".... I had made arrangements for commencing the erection of an extensive range of stone storehouses, contiguous to the wharf of Sydney, on the annexed plan, the adoption of which I have strongly recommended to my successor, for the reasons assigned In my letter to your Lordship of September 1 last."
Foveaux held the position of Acting, or Lieutenant Governor, for the five months, succeeding the deposition of Bligh, until he was superseded, in office by his superior, Colonel Paterson. In a letter to Governor Macquarie, on his assuming the Government, early in the year 1S10, Foveaux again mentions the stores at Sydney in the following words. The letter is dated February 27, 1810: -
" ... I suggested the plan, prepared the materials, and made great progress in the elevation of the new store close to the waterside at Sydney, by the completion of which incalculable expence (sic) will be saved in the security and preservation of the Government stores and provision..."
The building was completed by Macquarie, and soon after the foundation stones were laid of the substantial building behind the stores, and facing George-street, which latter was finished exactly 100 years ago. The familiar inscription on this latter building is still clear and distinct, and reads as follows: -.
"Erected In the year 1812, L. Macquarie. Esq., Governor," surmounted by the initials "CR."
Recent Improvements along the street line have considerably smartened the building up, but formerly a row of decrepit cypress trees grew In front, enclosed by an area railing.
Here the Commissariat and his staff dwelt In the olden days, and the covered-in verandah at the end of the building, facing the Fire Station, originally formed a "beat" for the sentry on guard. This was necessary, as the valuable commodities stored in this, and the big stores nearer the water, were a never-ending source of temptation to one particular class of the community in those days. One has only to glance through the official records of. the time to understand the stern Justice meted out to the offender caught robbing the stores, and his punishment was of that nature that he never had any opportunity of repeating the offence.
Prior to the extensive reclamation works at this part of circular Quay, the old stores facing the water were built directly at the edge, so that boats could come alongside and discharge their cargo straight into the building. Times have changed, and though the old structure is still the repository for goods, delivery is made by land, and never more will the tidewaters lap the moss-covered stones, so well and truly laid when the past century was but in its teens.
All the early views of this portion of Sydney show the building standing up conspicuously amongst Its more humble surroundings, and Its long association with Sydney Cove has given it a sort of claim upon the attention and Interest of those who would certainly miss its familiar form, were the exigencies of present-day building activity to require Its removal. The march of progress has swept away in its career every other ancient landmark associated with the waters of Sydney Cove. New and imposing buildings line the water front, where formerly the quaint structures of a bygone age marked the Indication of the city's infant steps. One by one they have crumbled away in the hands of the builder, and have been replaced by something more pretentious, and in keeping with the steadily increasing demands of commerce. Isolated amongst these creations of a modern age, yet still possessing a dignity and substantial air which speak well for the workmanship of old times, this pile of buildings yet shows a brave front to the world, and performs the service for which It was intended, satisfactorily and well. Lovers of the antique, and those with a strong penchant for Australian history, will unite in the wish that the day may be long In coming before one of the few remaining relics of the "building Governor" will be ruthlessly swept away, even were it to make way for the most ornate and imposing building that the city of Sydney has yet seen."